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    What is a mental health evaluation?

    Diagnosing mental health disorders in children can be difficult because many different factors can affect children's moods and behaviors, including physical health problems, experiences in their environment or mental health disorders. For this reason, a mental health evaluation is often essential to understanding a child's difficulties and how best to help them.

    A mental health evaluation (or assessment) is a process by which a professional gains detailed information about a child's difficulties in order to make an accurate diagnosis and provide recommendations for the most appropriate treatment. The type of problem a child is experiencing will determine the type of evaluation needed and where it will be completed. Some evaluations take place in a child's school; others are completed at medical centers, community mental health centers or private outpatient offices.

    Types of evaluations

    Psychiatric Evaluation

    Needed when:

    • A child is showing serious emotional or behavioral problems
    • To determine if symptoms have a physiological cause
    • Medication is being considered as a treatment option

    Conducted by:

    • Child and adolescent psychiatrist

    What is unique about this type of evaluation?

    • A psychiatrist has specialized knowledge of medications for mental health problems and can give prescriptions if necessary
    • If needed, laboratory studies such as blood tests, x-rays or physical examination are ordered to rule out physical health problems as a cause of symptoms

    Psychological Evaluation

    Needed when:

    • A child is showing serious emotional or behavioral problems
    • A child's diagnosis is unclear or needs clarification

    Conducted by:

    • Clinical psychologist

    What is unique about this type of evaluation?

    • A psychologist has specialized knowledge of children's mental health problems and treatment
    • One-on-one testing with the child (i.e., intellectual, personality, information processing, memory and/or attention testing)
    • Possible observation of the child's behavior at school

    Psychoeducational Evaluation

    Needed when:

    • A child is having difficulty learning
    • Eligibility for special education is being considered

    Conducted by:

    • School, clinical or educational psychologist

    What is unique about this type of evaluation?

    • These professionals have specialized knowledge of how children learn and classroom interventions
    • One-on-one testing with the child (i.e., intellectual, achievement, speech and language, information processing, attention and/or personality testing)
    • Observation of the child's behavior in class

    Developmental Evaluation

    Needed when:

    • A young child (birth  to 7 years) is not showing age appropriate skills or is not meeting developmental milestones
    • Eligibility for special education is being considered

    Conducted by:

    • Usually by a team that could include a psychologist, physician, speech/language pathologist, physical therapist, occupational therapist or nurse

    What is unique about this type of evaluation?

    • These professionals have specialized knowledge of child development
    • One-on-one testing with the child (i.e., motor skills, communication, pre-academic skills, adaptive functioning)
    • Observation of the child's behavior in the office and/or school

    Neuropsychological Evaluation

    Needed when:

    • Child is experiencing problems with memory, attention, problem-solving and/or visual-motor functioning
    • Child has a medical condition that may affect brain functioning (e.g., brain tumor, brain injury, cancer, epilepsy, etc.)

    Conducted by:

    • Neuropsychologist

    What is unique about this type of evaluation?

    • A neuropsychologist has specialized knowledge of brain functioning
    • One-on-one testing with the child (e.g., intellectual, achievement, speech and language, information processing, attention, visual-motor and/or personality testing)

    Psychosexual Evaluation

    Needed when:

    • Sexual abuse perpetration is alleged or suspected
    • Information is  needed regarding child's risk of re-offending, need  for supervision and/or treatment recommendations

    Conducted by:

    • Clinical psychologist, usually with specialized training in sex offender management

    What is unique about this type of evaluation?

    • This psychologist has specialized knowledge of sexual development and issues related to sexual abuse perpetration
    • Interviews with caregiver and child focus more on a child's sexual development, sexual attitudes, sexual interests, and sexual behaviors
    • One-on-one testing with the child (i.e., personality testing)

    Preparing your child for an evaluation

    For most children, participating in a mental health evaluation will be a new experience and they may feel nervous or confused about why they need to go. Preparing your child ahead of time by telling him or her what will happen and why the testing is important can alleviate some anxiety. Below are five suggestions that can help to make the experience of a mental health evaluation a positive experience for your child.

    1. Talk to your child about testing

    Some children may worry about what is "wrong" with them when they learn that they need to go for testing. It's important to let your child know that many children and teens go for evaluations at some point to understand how they think, learn, or experience and deal with their emotions. With older children, it may be helpful to encourage them to think about whether they have any questions of their own that they would like to talk with the professional about.

    2. Avoid telling your child that they will be playing "games"

    Children often find some of the tasks involved in evaluations fun, but some tasks may be challenging or boring to your child. A child may be disappointed or upset to find that the tasks are not what they would consider to be "games." Instead, you can tell your child that they will likely be asked to answer questions and complete tasks, some of which will be easy and some that might be more difficult.

    3. When possible, carefully schedule testing dates

    Check your child's schedule to make sure that they will not be missing a field trip, sports game, or other special activity when testing; their disappointment or upset could affect their attitude towards testing. Also be aware of changes in family routine that might affect your child, such as a move or a caregiver being out of town.

    4. Make sure your child gets a good night's sleep before testing

    A good night sleep is important to ensure that a child is able to perform their best at testing. A child's ability to pay attention and their level of effort can all be affected by a poor night's sleep.

    5. Make sure your child has eaten well before testing

    Food is also essential to a child's ability to think and pay attention. If testing is taking place in the morning, make sure your child eats a good breakfast. If your child is testing in the afternoon, consider giving them a snack on the way. Also, you can ask the professional doing the testing if it is okay to bring a drink or snack for your child if testing will last a few hours.

     

    • A neuropsychologist has specialized knowledge of brain functioning
    • One-on-one testing with the child (e.g., intellectual, achievement, speech and language, information processing, attention, visual-motor, and/or personality testing)
    • A neuropsychologist has specialized knowledge of brain functioning
    • One-on-one testing with the child (e.g., intellectual, achievement, speech and language, information processing, attention, visual-motor, and/or personality testing)
    • A child is showing serious emotional or behavioral problems
    • A child's diagnosis is unclear or needs clarification

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